It was no Ides of March but certainly one of the most inspiring news of the month when Lagos and Kebbi States signed a Memorandum of Understanding that is expected to culminate in the production of 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice requirements annually.
In a country where rice is a national staple that gulps more than 365bn in importation expenditure annually, this must be a great piece of news and a remarkable example of how states ought to collaborate especially where it concerns finding alternative sources of revenue. With the ratification of that MoU at the government house in Lagos on March 23rd, the two governors, Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos and Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi, are determined to etch their names in gold as state chief executives who care about food production and sufficiency.
What this means is that Nigeria is set to witness a rare kind of partnership that will boost food production, processing and distribution. And the basis for it is obvious: Kebbi state is an agrarian state with over 1.2million hectres of arable land characterized by very large floodplains, lowlands and gentle slopes. It is blessed with a vast arable land suitable for the cultivation of rice, wheat, groundnut, maize, sorghum and sugarcane. In the 2014/2015 wet season, over 600,000 hectres of land was deployed for rice cultivation alone in the three senatorial districts of the state.
Lagos, on the other hand, is the largest consumer of food commodities in Nigeria, by virtue of its large population, which is more than 21 million people. It has the market and of course the purchasing power, which translates to an estimated consumption of over 798,000 metric tons of milled rice per year. This is equivalent to 15.96 million of 50 kilogramme bags with a value of about N135bn per annum.
Also, Lagos presently consumes 6,000 herds of cattle daily, which according to experts, may increase to about 8,000 in the next five years considering the growth rate and influx of people into the state. Yet, the state is one of the largest producers of poultry and thus has a large demand for maize livestock feed production. The bulk of the vegetables produced in the country end up in Lagos markets and the state also houses most of the industrial users of wheat and sorghum – most flour mills, bakeries, breweries and food manufacturers.
The arithmetic of a rice-producing state partnering with the largest consumer state in the country is very obvious. “Lagos, if it were a country itself, is a country that other states would be going to establish a relationship with, and so why not state to state?” says Governor Bagudu. “What we are doing is to pioneer a collaboration that will bring other states on board later as we believe that our potentials are enormous and we must have pacesetters to start that process of joint collaboration for our collective good,” he added.
Other states like Adamawa may have already started to express their interest in partnering with Lagos too on agriculture and food production, but Governor Ambode is unequivocal in what the Lagos-Kebbi partnership seeks to achieve. “We are embarking on a joint venture to feed our people, establish commercial enterprises, create employment and wealth distribution for the benefit of both states and the entire country in general,” he stated at the MoU signing ceremony.
And it is only a forward-looking governor like Ambode that would state categorically that the future of the state is “partly tied to the deliberate resolution on food security. Likewise, food production and self sufficiency require our immediate attention at policy and strategic levels to sustain ourselves…the partnership (with Kebbi) signals the commencement of a new beginning of cooperation and common-sense revolution.”
So if Ambode says, almost prophetically, that with the Lagos-Kebbi partnership, the era of rice importation in Nigeria may soon be a thing of the past, he is only being true to his cerebral, pragmatic self.
He knew that food production and sustainability would be a dire concern Lagos State continues to witness an unprecedented expansion. And so he created a special office on Food Security to be forward looking in the area of self-sufficiency just the same way he established the Office of Investment and Overseas Affairs (Lagos Global), which seeks not just Direct Foreign Investment into Lagos, but to also encourage local investors to identify Lagos as the prime destination for investment and business opportunities. By this collaboration with Kebbi, therefore, it is clear that a commodity value chain that will sustain rice production has been established and the two special offices created at the inception of Ambode administration are already living up to their billing.
Already, analysts have said the partnership would create jobs, ensure food security and reduce the nation’s dependence on rice importation. Yet, observers agree that the bold initiative has shown that there are other investment opportunities that can generate income other than oil and gas.
Without a doubt, the Lagos-Kebbi partnership will add another layer to Kebbi’s National Sufficiency in Rice production Programme, which already seeks to employ about 500,000 youths in the state. And Governor Ambode sure hits the nail on the head when he stated that “this is the first time in the history of Nigeria that two states are collaboration to develop their agricultural potentials. We have the economic prowess to produce rice locally. The era of imported rice is gone. The reality is for all of us to embrace the consumption of local foodstuffs and commodities.”